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NOTE: The following letter was published in the November 17, 2016 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
In the Church this month is a time when we try to remember to pray more often for our beloved dead, to visit their graves, and even attend Mass on All Souls Day, Nov. 2.
Our readings at Sunday Masses throughout the month include many references to the end of the world, death and the after-life.
Our faithful, of course, believe when we die, life is not ended, but changed. We believe that our souls live on with God, as we find a resting place with him for all eternity. There is a comfortableness about heaven and death in our readings. No one seems afraid to die.
Reflecting on the after-life, our beloved Pope St. John XXIII, used to say, “I’ll still be with you after death, just right around the corner.”
We all want to experience heaven; we wonder what it will be like – we just don’t necessarily want to die to have to go to heaven. We believe that in heaven, we will see God face to face, not in a symbol or sign, like we do at Mass. We believe in heaven we will see the same Lamb of God that we see at Mass, just not veiled in the sacrament and in his word.
It is important my brothers and sisters in Christ to believe in heaven. Indeed, we need to muster up the faith, and believe now in heaven, for heaven is a choice and we do not end up there by mistake. We choose heaven by how we live our lives now. We choose it by being people of prayer and charity, by being active in our Church, by supporting life from its conception until natural death, by always speaking the truth with love, by not lying nor gossiping, but by supporting one another. We choose heaven by how we live in our marriages, by our faithfulness to our promises and vows for those of us who are religious and priests, by how we share in family life, live with our friends, and by how we love those who are in need of our assistance. When things are difficult, and temptations are great – when at times the whole world seems to forget about God, let us not forget heaven, and let us choose God and heaven by how we live.
Our diocesan family has been choosing heaven for 35 years now! To mark this anniversary, on the very day, Nov. 19, that the Diocese of Metuchen was founded in 1981 by then Pope, now St. John Paul II, we are making a pilgrimage to the largest church in our country dedicated to our Mother Mary, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The Holy Father’s representative to our country, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, will preside at our Mass of Thanksgiving and I’m sure he will encourage all of us to continue to build on what has been accomplished in making God’s Kingdom even more present in our four counties, Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren.
Our pilgrimage will also lead us to a beautiful and meaningful way our diocese will conclude the Year of Mercy on Nov. 20, the feast of Christ the King. On that day we have planned a special prayer service in the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, during which the Disciple of Mercy award will be presented to nearly 100 individuals and groups who were nominated by their parish, school or organization.
Four days later, on Nov. 25, we celebrate Thanksgiving, a time for reflection on God’s blessings in our lives. This year, I am certainly including in my prayer of thanks the clergy, religious and laity of our diocese who are so faithful in generously providing all that we need to fulfill our diocesan mission. God has blessed you, a wonderful faith-filled community, and I am so grateful for your sacrificial and consistent generosity in so many ways.
May our pilgrims be transformed by their journey to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. May our Disciples of Mercy inspire others to perform good works. May you all enjoy a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. Please keep me in your prayers and know that I will continue my prayers for you. May God bless our diocesan family so one day each of us will meet him in heaven.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen